South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest nuke test, that additional launchers for a controversial US antimissile system will be installed tomorrow in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province.
Korea JoongAng Daily reports that four launchers for the American-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system will be placed in the Seongju base to respond to mounting North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Installing the four launchers reportedly completes the deployment of a Thaad battery. A single Thaad unit typically consists of six launchers, 48 interceptors, a fire control and communications unit and radar. The launchers had been in storage at a joint US-South Korean facility inside the country.
The Thaad units at a former golf course in Seongju have been the focus of strong opposition from local residents and activists.
The Defense Ministry emphasized that the Thaad deployment is a temporary move to counter an escalating nuclear and missile threat from the North. It noted that a full-scale environmental impact study will be carried out to determine whether the deployment will be permanent or not.
South Korea and the US agreed to deploy a Thaad battery in July 2016 over strong objections from China and Russia. The initial Thaad unit was installed at Seongju on April 26 this year — less than two weeks before the May 9 presidential election that elected current President Moon Jae-in.
Moon halted the Thaad deployment after assuming office and ordered the environmental review to check on its local impact and raise questions about the validity of the process. But Moon ordered his aides to discuss installing the additional four launchers with US officials after North Korea fired intercontinental ballistic missiles in July.
The North conducted a sixth nuclear test on Sunday, claiming that it had exploded a hydrogen weapon.
In Beijing at a regular news briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed grave concerns over the planned additional Thaad installation. He urged South Korea and the US to withdraw the Thaad system, saying that the deployment will “severely damage the regional strategic balance, and will harm the strategic security interests of countries in the region, including China.”